David Macdonald reports on a WildCRU and CNRS collaboration on spotted hyaenas

February 23, 2016

Its not just my Scottish roots remind me of the power of the Auld Alliance, writes David Macdonald in reporting a fascinating outcome of a collaboration between WildCRU and the French CNRS: one of the exciting things about our work in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, is that while the WildCRU team led by Andrew Loveridge and myself have focussed on the lions, our French colleagues from the CNRS have been studying their prey and some other topics. Amongst the latter has been Stéphanie Périquet’s intriguing work on spotted hyaneas.

In Hwange, as in many other ecosystems, lions and spotted hyaenas share space and prey, and often far from harmoniously. Aside from hostilities over food, lions actually kill hyaenas, especially juveniles (most commonly around their dens). Hyaenas might thus be expected to select dens in areas where they are less likely to bump into lions, and in deed to visit their dens when lions are not in the vicinity. Using hourly fixes from GPS collars deployed on lions by WildCRU and on hyaenas by the CNRS (HERD Program, LBBE, Lyon, France), we found that while den selection was influenced by clues as to the risk of predation by lions, attendance at the hyaenas at their dens was affected by the actual probably of encountering lions there – in short, the hyaenas made themselves scarce when lions were around. So, as to minimising the odds of bumping into lions, they preferred dens far from waterholes (which are intensively used by lions), and favoured dens with numerous entrances (which provide several escape routes for pups). And as to day to day risk avoidance, hyaenas decrease their attendance at a given den site when lions have been within 3km of it, even as long as a month previously!

Our results strongly suggest that coexistence between hyaenas and lions, and most probably between any large carnivore species capable of killing each other, relies on their ability to adapt to each other’s whereabouts from moment to moment.

hyaena cub hyaena adult